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Clarion Call for Leadership

The opinions expressed by columnists are their own and do not necessarily represent the views of Townhall.com.

Some startling revelations have come out of the fracas going on in Wisconsin over Gov. Walker and the GOP-controlled legislature facing off against public sector unions, namely the teachers’ union. From 2001 to 2010, Wisconsin taxpayers paid more than $8 billion for state employee health care coverage, while state employees contributed only $398 million, less than 5% of the total costs. From 2000 to 2009, taxpayers paid $12.6 billion for public employee pensions, while the employees only contributed $55.4 million, less than 0.5% of the total cost.

Public employees are guaranteed those final salaries for life. Not only that, you get to add on other positions for mega-pensions. So if you were a firefighter and a teacher, you get two pensions at your last salary in both jobs. Retired public employees regularly receive pension in excess of $100,000 - again, guaranteed for life. And who pays for these folks not to work? You and I, the taxpayers. We are their meal ticket for their entire lives, yet when times are tough and we ask them to share the burden, they yell and scream that they are entitled to every penny they never had to contribute.

And many will claim the disparity between private and public sector pay as a reason that public employees should receive such largesse. However, study after study is showing that government employee are now making more than their private sector contemporaries, especially on the lower/mid end of the economic scale. So not only do they get paid better, they get an annual cost of living increase, locality adjustments, inflation adjustments, full medical, and of course the obscenely great pension.

Most people should be horrified and shocked by this terrible imbalance. Unions need to be cut down to some level of normalcy and reality. It's not that we're anti-union and they're bad people, it's just that taxpayers can ill afford to foot this bill.

The other issue the protests have helped to shine a light on is the inherent problems when public sector unions negotiate with government. Public sector unions give major contributions to elected officials with whom they negotiate. This is the same as if the Teamsters bribed and helped appoint the CEO of Southwest Airlines in order to then negotiate a better deal that would actually harm Southwest.

The other major difference is that if the hypothetical Teamster CEO gives into the union to the detriment of the company, the company goes bankrupt and everyone loses their job. The private sector unions have an incentive to compromise in order to guarantee the health of the company (GM, their union, and government bailouts being the exception). Politicians have no such incentive to generally oppose public union demands - they get re-election support and boot the real financial problems of such lousy contracts down the line to their eventual successors. That way they can lie and promise the world because they are never going to be truly held accountable when the whole ponzi scheme falls apart. This is no different that what Bernie Madoff did, yet the public, and especially the progressives, liberals, and union lackeys lap it up and sanctimoniously justify it.

Gov. Christie of New Jersey said it best the other day while addressing the New Jersey state firefighters convention. "Here's the deal: I understand you're angry, and I understand you're frustrated, and I understand you feel deceived and betrayed." He continued, "For 20 years, governors have come into this room and lied to you, promised you benefits that they had no way of paying for, making promises they knew they couldn't keep, and just hoping that they wouldn't be the man or women left holding the bag. I understand why you feel angry and betrayed and deceived by those people. Here's what I don't understand. Why are you booing the first guy who came in here and told you the truth?"

"The way we used to think about politics and, unfortunately, the way I fear they're thinking about politics still in Washington" incorporates "the old playbook [which] says, ‘lie, deceive, obfuscate and make it to the next election.” After seeing a report noting that New Jersey’s pensions will be insolvent by 2020, he was told not to worry about it because he won’t be governor anymore. "That's the way politics has been practiced in our country for too long. . . . So I said to those firefighters, 'You may hate me now, but 15 years from now, when you have a pension to collect because of what I did, you'll be looking for my address on the Internet so you can send me a thank-you note.”

It puzzles me to no end that the left (and, unfortunately, several on the right) cannot recognize that their agendas and ideas for foolishly spending taxpayers’ money is jeopardizing this country's future, plunging us into debt and attaching the strings that make us puppets to foreign masters. Public employee unions and their lavish, guaranteed benefits are a major cause of the coming collapse, yet too many would rather focus on what they perceive as their due today rather than assure they and their fellow Americans have something to share tomorrow.

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